The Dangers of Promiscuous Singing

Posted on 06th November 2020 under The Rectory Bulletin | Hymn Stories


Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

Rather than tell a hymn story this week, I thought I’d do something a little different. The last few months have shown us how important singing hymns are. You often don’t value something until it’s gone, and not being able to sing familiar hymns with a full throated bellow has made us realise the part singing plays in our worship.

You might think that hymns were always a staple of worship, but that’s not the case. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, a significant number of English churches were caught up in a controversy over hymn singing. At issue was what was referred to as 'promiscuous singing’, which was the danger that you might sing words which were not actually true or, worse, led to theological error. After all, were not hymns simply human inventions and therefore prone to err? You might be led astray by singing words which gave a distorted portrait of God? So it was that the 1686 General Baptist Assembly passed a resolution stating “it was not conceived anywise safe for the churches to admit such carnal formalities”.

Well, some pointed out, it’s not quite that straightforward. When read the account of the Last Supper you come across this: “and when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Mark 14:26). So it was that some churches began singing a hymn after communion, and before long hymns were sung throughout the service. Fifty or so years after the 1686 Assembly, Charles Wesley made a great use of hymns set to popular tunes in the spreading of the gospel. John Newton and Isaac Watts wrote many staunch hymns, which endure even to the present day.

But there is some truth in the concerns of the Baptists of yesteryear. Do we sing hymns without paying much attention to the words? Do we accept the words, but not ask ourselves if they a right?

Oh! Dear reader! Beware “promiscuous singing”!

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